Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Last week, I had the priviledge of photographing a beautiful wedding ceremony in which our friends Trevor and Joanna pronounced their commitment to one another surrounded by family and friends in the afternoon sunlight on a beach in Surf City, NC. It was a sweet, warm weekend, filled with love and celebration and kind words. Both of them are wonderful people, grounded and kind and wise beyond their years, so it should have come as no surprise that their families and friends were in turn wonderful people. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of.

The weekend started with a welcome dinner on Saturday night, featuring a low-country boil made by family members and filled with music made by Orange Krush, for whom the bride is the lead singer, my husband the keyboardist, my friends the other musicians and their families. At Sunday's wedding ceremony, guests pitched in making flower arrangements, desserts, decorating the beach house where the reception was held. Even the groom's brother performed the ceremony, waves crashing behind his outstretched hands, wedding bands carried in a seashell filled with sand. It felt like every person there played a part in making the day happen. It was definitely a group project.

During the ceremony, as in many weddings, all of us present were asked to support the couple, to be there for them, to nurture their marriage for the years to come. This is, after all, the responsibility of any wedding guest - not just to enjoy the free wine and cake, but to agree to be a strand in a web of support around this new love. To me, this is a large part of why the public wedding ceremony is important, for the fledgling marriage's witnesses become also its greatest champions.

The weekend turned out to also be the culmination of one of the most challenging moments of my own marriage. In the space of a week, my understanding of all that I know and believe about my life was completely changed. I have always known that marriage is difficult, and now I know that more than I ever have.  As the words of Corinthians were read during Joanna and Trevor's ceremony, I clicked the shutter on my camera with tears running down my face.

The wedding guests received jade plants as a thank you gift from the couple, given for their symbol of friendship. On our long 7-hour drive home, though I placed it in a safe spot, the plant drooped and wilted. By the time we returned home, I wasn't sure it was going to survive. It's instructions said not to water it more than twice a month, and so I was unsure of what to do.

The thing about the promises made at a marriage celebration that I did not realize until now is that they aren't frozen in time. The people who promise to protect and nurture and support your marriage aren't just the ones who are there at your wedding, but the people with whom you form relationships throughout your life. While it is certainly true that we are still supported and loved by the people who were with us on June 19, 2004, whether in body or only in spirit, our marriage is also upheld by our new friends and family, by those people who have joined us on this journey since that day and in our 5 years in Asheville. When you form a new friendship, you join that circle that was present on the wedding day of your new friend, a silent participant in one of the most important rituals on Earth.

I put the jade plant in my kitchen, on the counter by the window where it can receive light and fresh air. After a few days there, it has recovered, standing tall, it's round green edges soaking up the indirect light of our home. I did what I thought would help it most, and then I waited for nature and the plant to do its own healing. This is what our friends and family do, too - they help and support, they do their best, and they lift us up to the sunlight, hoping that nature and time and space will heal. What more can I possibly pray or hope for my own marriage than this - for the time and space and light to be recreated, to be healed, to be renewed, all the while surrounded by a circle of family and friends old and new, the waves crashing behind us.

Friday, August 6, 2010

all cats go to heaven

Today we said goodbye to our beloved cat Mackeson. 

He had been sick for about a month, losing weight and not eating. We were never quite sure what it was, but it felt like it was time to let him go. Last night, I knew the time was drawing near, so we had one last sweet snuggle together, him purring on my pillow and me petting him as we both fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I woke up to find him snuggled at the end of the bed with our other cat, Simone, spooning and purring like they always did. I buried him in the mid-morning sun in the front garden, a place of honor next to the hydrangea, the perfect spot for a new lavender bush, with silver leaves just like his fur. 

I found Mackeson 13 years ago when I lived in a rundown farmhouse on Vore Ridge Road in Athens County, Ohio. I had an eccentric roommate who named him, after the triple stout beer. At about the same time, a woman brought a little brown female tabby cat into the vet clinic where I was working. She had found her in a storm drain by the highway. I had been thinking about getting a cat of my own, and suddenly I had two, who promptly fell in love and were closer and more loving to each other than any two pets I've ever known. 

Mackeson came to us as a young, unneutered male - killing mice, disappearing for days at a time, yowling in the middle of the night, "teaching" the dog tricks (according to my roommate). On one particularly hard day, I had called home to ask my roommate a question and she told me, "some guy stopped by here looking for you today". I was intrigued. "He had gray hair, and green eyes, and whiskers..." 

I move around a lot in the years since - home, to another apartment in Athens, to Michigan, and eventually to North Carolina. Simone and Mack (and my dog, Murphy) followed me on all of those moves, the cats snuggling together in the window hammock in whatever place it was installed. Eventually, we added another cat to the mix, a black and white kitten named Baldwin. She took on both Simone and Mackeson as surrogate parents, nursing on them, being groomed by them. I would come home to find all three of them squeezed into the hammock, licking and purring and blissed out on each other. That was the only opportunity Simone and Mackeson had to try kitten-rearing, and I think they loved it a lot. 

Mackeson saw me through a long period of my own growth - through college, boyfriends, roommates, trying to pick a career. He settled into any new situation just fine, making his place in whatever life I was living at the time, sleeping on my pillow every night, me falling asleep holding onto one of his paws. 

Mackeson made a place for himself in my marriage, too, winning Brian over right away. When we moved to Asheville, we only had each other and our pets, and we spent countless hours at home playing with the cats - giving them catnip, playing fetch with toy mice. We would use "the Mackeson test" to decide where to eat dinner when we were feeling indecisive, writing down restaurant choices on pieces of paper and seeing which one Mackeson smelled first. We knew our cats so well, we could identify them by the smell of their fur, the sound of their meow, the rhythm of their purring. 

To love an animal is to make a connection that transcends all we understand about communication or love or the boundaries of humanity. It is a perfect love, even when we ourselves are far from perfect, one that brings a richness and depth to our lives in ways that nothing else does. Though having a child certainly curtailed the amount of time spent focusing solely on our pets, there is always a place for them - with their heads on our pillows and their love snuggled into our hearts. Losing a pet is as painful as losing a human family member, but I wouldn't trade the pain I feel now for the wonderful life I shared with Mackeson. I am so happy, so blessed that I got to experience that love with him, that I got to give him a safe and happy life he probably would not have had otherwise. 

My friend Mandy lent me a book today that included a quote from Will Rogers, who said "if there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went". It won't be heaven for me if it doesn't include my pets in some form or fashion. I believe Mackeson is there now, back in his prime, fat and beautiful, laying in the sunshine, enjoying the garden of St. Francis of Assisi, purring and loved and full of life, waiting for the day he gets to sleep on my pillow again. 

 We love you and miss you already Mackeson, and we always will.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


This little girl turned three years old today. 

I suppose that it never gets easier to believe that your child has gotten as big as they have. I look at Dora and she is so tall, so grown up, so full of intelligence and vocabulary and awareness, it's just amazing to me. 

I thought a lot about Dora's birth today, of course. I tried, at various times throughout the day, to remember exactly what we were doing at that moment three years ago today. Calling a friend, taking one last look at my belly cast, spending a quiet moment alone in the nursery. Walking the dogs, eating watermelon, trying to sit outside and being chased back in by mosquitoes. The agonizingly long drive to the hospital, when for once my husband drove too slow. The jokes I somehow made even in pain, my incredible doula, my doctor who was kind but strong when I needed her to be. The mountains outside my window, the way everything stood still for a moment before the baby arrived. Finding out we had a girl - meeting her, hearing her cries, a family now instead of a couple.

The memories are there still - they will always be there - but I noted with sadness today that they have faded a bit. There are a few more details that have escaped me, exact times when events occurred are slowly fading, it takes more concentration to call up the exact details. I realize that it will get harder and harder to return to that day in my memory, but I want to hold on to it, want to believe that I will always be able to recall exactly how incredible that day was. 

 We had a lovely little evening together, with presents and cupcakes and a new book to read. We all sang happy birthday. We put the magnetic letters all over the fridge, the mark of a toddler in residence. After books and bath and phone calls to grandparents I climbed into bed next to Dora for our goodnight snuggle. I thought back to this night three years ago, to laying in bed next to my new little baby, all wrapped up like a burrito with only her face visible. That night as I laid there beside her, a new mother spinning in a whirlwind of hormones and emotion and exhaustion, I felt my heart expand to welcome this new love, felt my life break open like the Earth's surface in a tremor, light and energy and heat pouring in. I remember being surprised that I really liked her a lot, that she really seemed like a special, perfect, interesting baby. 

Tonight, as Dora fell asleep, her face relaxing and looking once again more like an infant than a child, I realized that her birth - the growth and change and transformation that took place that day - continues on. My heart is still expanding for her, my life still opening up for her, my world continually transformed by the power of this love. The memories may fade and the little details may become hard to remember, but I am still shaped by becoming a mother, by growing with Dora into the mother I am now. I have written before that there are many days when I think, "I cannot possibly love her any more than I already do", and the next day comes, and I do love her even more, somehow. The same can be said, apparently, for how we grow and learn as we become parents. Every day I think I cannot possibly be transformed any more than I already have been, and then, somehow, I am. 

Happy birthday sweet girl. You are special and perfect and interesting, and I love you more than I will ever be able to tell you.